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Wind a Likely Foe for British Open Golfers

Rory McIlroy (L) of Northern Ireland and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa talk at the 18th green during the final practice round for the British Open golf championship at Royal St George's in Sandwich, southern England, July 13, 2011

The third major golf championship of the year, the British Open, tees off Thursday at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England.

The last time the British Open was played at Royal St. George’s in 2003, American Ben Curtis was the surprise winner. What is surprising now is that no American has won any of golf’s major events since Phil Mickelson won The Masters early last year. That is a record drought of five straight majors since The Masters became the fourth yearly Grand Slam event in 1934.

Mickelson, a four-time major champion, has only one top-10 finish in 17 British Opens, a third in 2004. The sixth-ranked Mickelson tied for 48th last year.

“I have not played to the level I expect and now it’s gotten me more determined to try to overcome this because I feel like this is exciting golf over here," said Mickelson. "I enjoy my time here. I enjoy the challenge of links golf. It’s fun. And I have not performed to the level that I have played in, say, week in and week out in the [United] States. And I want to change that and I’m planning on doing that.”

Mickelson’s fellow-American Tiger Woods, a three-time British Open champion, will be sidelined by the injuries that caused him to miss last month’s U.S. Open.

In his absence, 22-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland fired a record score to win it and became a huge fan favorite after he had collapsed while leading The Masters in April.

“It was great to win the U.S. Open, you know win my first major and the support that I’ve had from people back home, from everyone - you know from all over the world - has been pretty overwhelming," said McIlroy. "It’s a very nice feeling to have that support walking onto the golf course.”

The defending British Open champion is South African Louis Oosthuizen. He said he is ready for the challenge of trying to repeat.

“It’s enjoyable. I think it’s a big honor. You know, I think it’s going to be a week of just taking a lot in again," said Oosthuizen. "You know it’s not every day or every tournament you can defend your title at the Open.”

Practice rounds for the 156 golfers have been hit with strong winds, and organizers said that some tees may have to be brought forward to make the par 70 links course playable. Gusts of up to 48 kilometers per hour are forecast Thursday and Friday for the first two rounds of the 140th British Open.

Sunday’s winner receives the prestigious Claret Jug and about $1.4 million, an increase of 5 percent over the last three years.